HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Some of the water cooler chatter may have diminished some after The University of Southern Mississippi's 44-35 victory Saturday at the University of Kentucky, but the statistics put up by the Golden Eagles will continue to tell the tale.
The largest come-from-behind win in the program's history featured 44 points and 520 yards total offense overall for the Golden Eagles, but the real story of the rally can be found in the second half numbers.
- USM’s offense scored on five, consecutive, second-half possessions, outscoring the Wildcats 27-0 in large part by pounding the ball on the ground to the tune of 131 yards and two touchdowns on 40 carries.
After throwing three interceptions testing a sturdy, Kentucky secondary in the first half, USM offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson decided to switch gears.
"There back end (defense) was good," Dawson said. "There were times when we wanted to test those guys, and it backfired on us. You don't throw picks on one-on-one fade routes too often, you know?
"So, obviously, from then on, the focus then became, let's put the ball in play and run the ball. You've got to take what they give you and you've got to be smart about how you attack…I feel extremely confident in (running backs Ito Smith and George Payne) and extremely confident with the way we had been running the whole camp, so it was an easy decision to make."
The result: Ito Smith and George Payne combined for 146 yards on 31 carries in the second half.
- USM’s offense held the ball for 40 minutes, 21 seconds of the 60-minute game, but the time of possession in the second half was even more pronounced, as the Golden Eagles controlled the football for 22 and a half minutes of the 30 minutes.
The dominance started up front, including USM's starting five linemen in center Cameron Tom, guards Devin Farrior and Brandon Farmer, tackles Jacob Fleming and Ty Pollard; tight end Julian Allen and reserve tackles Will Freeman and Jerry Harris and reserve guard Oliver Bates.
"I don't care what kind of offense or defense you run, the game is won up front on both sides of the ball," Dawson said. "I don't care if you have Tom Brady back there, if you can't protect and he's on the ground, guess what? You're not going to have a very good day. The O-line played exceptionally well. They played physical…Two things about the offensive line: We played a lot of people. Jack (Wright, offensive line coach) did a great job of rolling those guys in. That's as good a percentage as I've seen with like eight guys…And two, there really wasn't a lot of falloff, which was even better."
- USM’s defense not only pitched a shutout in the second half, but thanks to forcing three turnovers and the dominance of USM’s offense, Kentucky only had five possessions after halftime.
"The first half, I think there were 10 (Kentucky) drives," USM defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro said. "In the second half, I think we had five drives. So, the offense did a fantastic job in the second half of keeping us off the field, which in turn let us get out there and play with a lot of energy."
And like its offensive brethren, USM rolled its defensive linemen. Ends Xavier Thigpen and Darian Yancey started on the edges with tackles Dylan Bradley and Jerry McCorvey inside, complemented by tackles Rod Crayton and LaDarius Harris and end Ja'Boree Poole.
"They weren't driving the ball all the way down the field and scoring," Thigpen said. "They just got five, big plays that turned into touchdowns and 35 points. We just had to clean up some things, and in the second half, they only had (22) total yards."
Allen said one of the big keys in the turnaround was the Golden Eagles' conditioning.
"Coach (Jay Hopson) stresses conditioning all the time and I think we were more conditioned at the end of the game in the second half," he said. "We came out there with a spark. Those guys were tired and we were gashing them, running the ball down their throats, and I think that played a huge part of it."
USM (1-0) will host Savannah State (0-1) at 6 p.m. Saturday in the Golden Eagles' home opener at Roberts Stadium.
About The WDAM 7 Gametime App:
The WDAM 7 Gametime app is bringing you the latest on Pine Belt sports.
The app features up to the minute scores for games, video highlights from local games, in-depth interviews with coaches, and updated schedules for your convenience.
Interact with us by sending us your pictures from local games or by joining us in conversation on social media.
You can also get the latest on Southern Miss football, Mississippi sports, SEC, NFL, and Saints coverage.
Download now, it is Gametime in South Mississippi!
Apple users can download The WDAM 7 Gametime app here.
Android users can download The WDAM 7 Gametime app here.